Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Using air transportation data to predict pandemics

Date:
December 12, 2013
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Computational work has led to a new mathematical theory for understanding the global spread of epidemics. The resulting insights could not only help identify an outbreak's origin but could also significantly improve the ability to forecast the global pathways through which a disease might spread. Scientists could use the theory to reconstruct outbreak origins with higher confidence, compute epidemic spreading speed and forecast when an epidemic wave front is to arrive at any location worldwide.

Computational work conducted at Northwestern University has led to a new mathematical theory for understanding the global spread of epidemics. The resulting insights could not only help identify an outbreak's origin but could also significantly improve the ability to forecast the global pathways through which a disease might spread.

"With this new theory, we can reconstruct outbreak origins with higher confidence, compute epidemic-spreading speed and forecast when an epidemic wave front is to arrive at any location worldwide," said theoretical physicist Dirk Brockmann, who developed the ideas for this research at the Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO). "This may help to improve possible mitigation strategies."

Brockmann, currently a professor at Berlin's Humboldt-Universitaet, worked with fellow scientist Dirk Helbing, a professor at ETH Zurich, to develop the theory. Brockmann was an associate professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science before moving to Germany this year.

Their study will be published Dec. 13 in the journal Science.

Brockmann and Helbing's new approach for understanding global disease dynamics is based on the intuitive notion that in our strongly connected world, conventional geographic distances are no longer the key variable but must be replaced with "effective distances."

"From the perspective of Frankfurt, Germany, other metropolitan areas such as London, New York or Tokyo are effectively not more distant than geographically close German cities such as Bremen, Leipzig or Kiel," said Brockmann, who also has a joint appointment at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

When an unknown virus emerges at various locations in the world, scientists focus on answering the following questions: Where did the new disease originate? Where are new cases to be expected? When are they expected? And how many people will catch the disease?

In order to contain the further spread -- and potentially devastating consequences -- rapid assessment is essential for the development of efficient mitigation strategies. Highly sophisticated computer simulations, which attempt to predict the likely epidemic time-course and spreading pattern, are important tools for forecasting different scenarios.

Such computer simulations, however, are very demanding in terms of computer time. They also require knowledge of disease-specific parameters that are typically not known for new, emergent infectious diseases.

In their work, the researchers show that effective distances can be computed from the traffic intensities in the worldwide air transportation network. "If the flow of passengers from point A to point B is large, the effective distance is small and vice versa," Helbing explained. "The only thing we had to do was to find the right mathematical formula for this."

With this type of mathematical foundation, Brockmann and Helbing can visualize the geographic spread of past diseases, such as SARS in 2003, or influenza H1N1 in 2009. Formerly complex dynamic patterns with no apparent structure thus turn into simple, concentric and regular wave patterns. These patterns can be easily captured mathematically.

"In the future, we hope our approach can substantially improve existing, state-of-the-art models for disease spread," Brockmann said.

"We believe our theory also will help to better understand other important contagion phenomena, such as the spread of computer viruses, information and fads, or contagion phenomena in social networks," Helbing added.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. D. Brockmann, D. Helbing. The Hidden Geometry of Complex, Network-Driven Contagion Phenomena. Science, 2013; 342 (6164): 1337 DOI: 10.1126/science.1245200

Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Using air transportation data to predict pandemics." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142145.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2013, December 12). Using air transportation data to predict pandemics. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142145.htm
Northwestern University. "Using air transportation data to predict pandemics." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131212142145.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Nintendo Changed Gaming World, but Its Future Uncertain: Upstone

Nintendo Changed Gaming World, but Its Future Uncertain: Upstone

AFP (Apr. 19, 2014) The Nintendo Game Boy celebrates its 25th anniversary Monday and game expert Stephen Upstone says the console can be credited with creating a trend towards handheld gaming devices. Duration: 01:21 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Why Did Nike Fire Most Of Its Nike FuelBand Team?

Why Did Nike Fire Most Of Its Nike FuelBand Team?

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) Nike fired most of its Digital Sport hardware team, the group behind Nike's FuelBand device. Could Apple or an overcrowded market be behind layoffs? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nearly Two Weeks On, The Internet Copes With Heartbleed

Nearly Two Weeks On, The Internet Copes With Heartbleed

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) The Internet is taking important steps in patching the vulnerabilities Heartbleed highlighted, but those preventive measures carry their own costs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Facebook To Share Nearby Friends Data With Advertisers

Facebook To Share Nearby Friends Data With Advertisers

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2014) A Facebook spokesperson has confirmed the company will use GPS data from the new Nearby Friends feature for advertising sometime in the future. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins